The star, who played a total of 567 competitive games during his senior career, has also appeared in numerous television adverts for the popular snack company Walkers, making him a recognisable face to the next generation, as well as those who supported him through his football career. Surprisingly however, Lineker has spoken out about being “concerned” for footballers and how vulnerable they are left to dementia. Following new evidence that suggests a link between heading the ball and the brain disease, Lineker has suggested a complete ban of heading the ball within football in order to protect players.
After taking part in a special documentary titled Dementia and Football, a subsequent inquiry was launched by Parliament into sport’s link to brain disease.
Research presented by talkSPORT explained that professional footballers are 3.5 times more likely to die from a brain disease than the general population.
It is important to point out that there has been no proven link between heading the ball and dementia, but Lineker is certain that the statistics are no coincidence, as growing numbers of players including Denis Law and Terry McDermott reveal their struggles with the condition.
Lineker said: “It’s a worry. I don’t mind admitting that it concerns me.
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“There’s no question there’s a link. The percentages of people who are getting forms of dementia in football are higher than those in the general public.
“I headed the ball a lot as a kid, because I did finishing training all the time.
“But I made a specific decision formed by me watching central defenders every day getting the ball kicked up and just heading ball after ball. I used to think, ‘That can’t be good for your head.’
“So I made a conscious decision to very rarely head the ball in training at that point.
“I don’t know whether its too late for me – the damage might have been done. Maybe I’ve got no damage.”
The star also spoke about conversations he has had with football legends Alan Shearer and Ian Wright, who share his concerns that in 10 to 15 years one of them could receive a dementia diagnosis.
Lineker continued to say: “Hindsight is a wonderful thing and in hindsight I wouldn’t have headed the ball very much in training at all. That would’ve been the one difference.
“I think I’ve scored more headed goals for England than anyone.
“[Football] is my love, it’s my everything. It’s given me the best life ever, and would I change it, even if something like that happened? No. I’m 60 now, if it comes on in 10 years’ time, it comes on in 10 years’ time, but I’d have had 70 unbelievable years. I don’t know what the next 10 years have in store for me.
In order to minimise the risk, Lineker suggested limiting the amount of heading within training. In a bid to keep his beloved sport the way it is, the star doesn’t want to change the whole game, but just rethink the training.
Lineker is also one of 60 footballers who launched a campaign to help those affected by dementia back in August of this year. The charity Head For Change was founded by family members of ex-players suffering from neurodegenerative disease.
What is dementia?
According to The Mayo Clinic, dementia is a term used to describe a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities. There are many different types of the syndrome and many different causes.
Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80 percent of all dementia cases, with vascular dementia – which is caused by a microscopic bleed and blood vessel blockage in the brain is the second most common.
The Alzheimer’s Association states that although the syndrome affects the brain slowly, there are 10 warning signs and symptoms that indicate you could be at risk of developing dementia.
These include the following:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality.
The key difference between signs of Alzheimers and dementia and typical age-related brain decline is the persistence and severity of symptoms, and the effect that they have on every day life. For example, if you make a bad decision once in a while, or initially forget what day it is, then you are probably not at risk of dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that if you notice any of these 10 early warning signs in yourself, or someone you know, it is crucial to book an appointment with your doctor and not ignore them. Earlier the detection of the condition may mean you are able to maintain a level of independence for longer.